Having told the opposition that their job is not just to ask questions, he then tells his People’s Action Party Members of Parliament to expect sharper questioning and more robust debates in Parliament.
Post GE2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is clearly anxious about what’s going to happen in Parliament, now that there are 10 Workers’ Party MPs and two Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MPs.
Beyond sharper questioning, PM Lee went a step further, urging the PAP MPs in his “Rules of Prudence” letter to “express their views frankly, whether for or against government policies” and to “speak freely and with conviction.”
Do PAP MPs take the words of PM Lee at face value? By “speak freely” does he mean that nothing is off limits?
The Prime Minister is essentially asking his PAP MPs to break out of their mould. For decades, their motto is to do no wrong to the party and no harm to themselves. It is their custom to throw softball questions. Any tough questions and critical views, let the opposition toss at the ministers.
Old habits die hard. Can PAP MPs raise their game and suddenly speak freely and speak out against government policies with conviction?
Seeing (and hearing) is believing. The litmus test is whether PAP MPs dare to take on sacred cows.
Will they, for example, wade into the politicisation of the People’s Association and grassroots organisations? Will they for the first time express on behalf of constituents that it is unfair and undemocratic that elected opposition MPs cannot be appointed grassroots advisers and cannot make use of publicly-funded PA facilities for meet-the-people sessions and community events?
Will PAP MPs seize the opportunity to speak up for an electorate that expects free and fair elections? Unilateral redrawing of electoral boundaries are always a bone of contention that only opposition MPs bring up. An Elections Department coming under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office also does not convey any semblance of independence.
Perhaps Ho Ching and Temasek Holdings are the most sacred of sacred cows for the PAP MPs. Will they summon the courage to ask for a more acceptable level of transparency on reporting and remuneration?
Much has been made of the opposition’s GE2020 call to the electorate to deny the PAP a blank cheque.
There is a way for PAP MPs to deny the opposition a blank cheque in Parliament too – ask questions and raise issues that are customary for the opposition to do so. This is how they nullify the opposition’s stance that without them, there is an absence of checks and balance, and no tough questions and hard issues will be raised in Parliament.
It’s asking a lot of the PAP MPs. It’s asking to them the break the habits of five decades. It’s asking them to go where others before them fear to tread.
The safest best would be on the PAP MPs playing it safe and doing no harm to themselves, despite PM Lee asking them to speak freely. Why trample on something that turns out to be off limits and sacred? Why run the risk of being a last-term MP?